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Sistine Chapel - detail from the Creation of Adam Sistine Chapel - detail from the Creation of Adam 

Pontifical Biblical Commission examines question: What is man?

The Pontifical Biblical Commission publishes a new systematic study on the anthropological vision of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. In an interview with Vatican News, Jesuit Father Pietro Bovati says that the sacred texts contain principles for reflecting on the great questions of our age.

By Vatican News

A new book-length study by the Pontifical Biblical Commission examines the Scriptural understanding of the human being. Entitled “What is man? An itinerary of biblical anthropology”, the document aims not at giving an answer to every question about man, but rather, providing foundational principles for discernment.

That’s according to Father Pietro Bovati, SJ, the secretary for the Commission. In an interview with Vatican News, he explained the significance of the document. “The Pope wanted this theme to be addressed starting precisely from Scripture, which is the foundation and soul of all Christian reflection”, Fr Bovati said. “At the basis of this is a question: what is man? This question runs through the whole of the Bible as an itinerary”.

Providing fundamental principles

Emphasizing the need to be guided by Scripture, Fr Bovati said that “Scripture teaches man the truth about man”. This kind of “methodology of biblical theology”, he explained, is not intended to give answers to every possible question, but to provide foundational principles “for a discernment of the sense of man in history”.

The Commission’s study is composed of four chapters, dealing with major themes including man as created by God; man in relation to the rest of creation; the relational reality of anthropology (focusing on spousal, parental/filial, and fraternal relationships); and the salvific plan of God for humankind.

Helping respond to modern questions

With regard to specific questions about human beings (for example, questions related to gender) Father Bovati said the Commission did not intend to go beyond what the Bible actually says about those questions. “So we agreed to address the issues, respecting the level of information that we have from Scripture”, he said. Recognizing that our “cultural situation” is very different from the situations in which the Biblical books were written, Fr Bovati noted that we cannot necessarily find “immediate and precise” answers to contemporary questions in the Bible. Nonetheless, in the Scriptures we can find principles, “useful indications for reflection” which can help “theologians, moralists, pastors” respond to modern concerns.

A systematic work

Father Bovati said the Commission “kept in mind… the whole Christian tradition” in the work, but at the same time wanted to do the preliminary work of “showing what Scripture really says”. That work, he explained, “had never been done”, since theologians normally only cite texts that are useful for the arguments they are making. “We, on the contrary, wanted to do a systematic work”, he said, “in order to offer a path of what the Bible says about all the complexity of the human being”.

This work, said Fr Bovati, is one of the most original contributions of the new document. “We have not only tried to clarify some points, and perhaps give a more mature, more complex interpretation even of certain biblical texts”. The originality, he continued, “lies in the itinerary, in offering to theologians, to those involved in the transmission of the faith, an understanding of man that is more complex, more organic, more in conformity with our Biblical traditions”.

In response to the question, “What is the truth of man?”, Fr Bovati said “the Bible gives some indications that must be considered absolutely fundamental for all”.

16 December 2019, 14:39